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Fall 2010 Through the Looking Glass

A new line of glass figurines sets up a wonderland of collectibles for the public and an opportunity for specialty retailers.

A new line of glass figurines sets up a wonderland of collectibles for the public and an opportunity for specialty retailers.

Sometimes, the sky really is the limit, as Escondido, CA-based BrainStorm Products found out. Their success in one area created the desire to branch out into another. The company manufactures X Kites—a series of specialty kites made of various materials including nylon and plastic. The kites come in special shapes such as Pterodactyl, Thunderbird jet plane, and Spiderman.

Rich Brady, senior vice president of sales for BrainStorm says that X Kites has reached market saturation in the United States with about 85% of the sales in this segment.

A touch of glass

So the company went back to the drawing board to launch a product that was very different from kites. Looking Glass Sculptures, a range of miniature glass torch figurines, was born 10 months later, in December 2009.

Even if the new products don’t soar like the kites did, the company estimates that growth will. The hand-blown figurines are marketed as collectibles and are spread across 11 categories—animals, bugs, birds, dinosaur, food, fantasy, ocean, and seasonal, among others.

Each figurine is typically three-quarters of an inch to an inch in height; no paint is used on them. The company’s production facility in China is able to handle current production and is ready for future expansion, says Brady.

Made for specialty retail

Before launching the product, the company found that the major problems specialty retailers face with glass products—especially miniature ones—are breakage and time spent in packaging the product after the sale.

As a solution, each Looking Glass figurine comes in its own protective capsule, which helps the retailer when receiving, stocking, displaying, and at the cash wrap. The company also sells a collector’s case, which customers can use to store and carry the collections without danger of breakage or damage.

Ensuring repeat sales

Each figurine has a story behind it, as well as a bio and a birth date printed in the packaging. New models are typically released every sixty days; release dates are planned all the way up to the end of the year.

There have been nearly 150 models or “characters” so far, and 40 planned for release in October and November—in advance of the holiday season. Christmas will see the birth of Santa Claus. To make the figurines “collectibles” each model is retired after sales reach 10,000. Two of the models, Oswald the Octopus and Blurr the Hummingbird, are already retired. That also addresses the practical problem that retailers face of having to stock all the models, which could run into the hundreds in a couple of years.

Although the figurines are meant for all age groups, the bulk of the appeal, says Brady, is to girls aged 8 to 14 years. Looking Glass figurines are currently available in many specialty and toy retailers all over the United States.

The company is looking to mall specialty retail sales avenues in addition to gift or toy stores in malls, zoos, aquariums, and the like, says Brady. Since X Kites already has an international presence, going international with Looking Glass may not be much of an issue in terms of logistics, says Brady. The challenge comes from another quarter: that of adding the bios of each character in different languages within limited packaging space. “The packaging is so small; it’s tough to get all the languages in there,” says Brady. “There are some challenges there to be ironed out.”

BrainStorm Products is looking to expand sales of the figurines within the United States and hopes to repeat the success it had with its kites. Brady says that Looking Glass has even more potential. “This has a broader range of [customers],” says Brady. “And retailers are going to get more sales and repeat sales. It can literally go anywhere—in specialty retail units, gift stores, anywhere.”

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Meera Rajagopalan

Meera Rajagopalan is a freelance writer who writes for publications in India and the U.S. She has extensive experience reporting on niche businesses and can be reached at

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